Coffee: The Second Black Gold

Every year approximately 3.85 billion gallons of coffee is consumed in the US alone. That amount of coffee comes out to a total industry value of $48 billion dollars (62% of which goes to Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts). The United States alone imports more than 1.2 million tons of beans—over three times more than China, Russia and Australia combined. In the world market, coffee is the second most traded commodity on Earth, behind crude oil, and this trade shows no signs of slowing down. However, while coffee is wonderful for breakfast and for work, its production history is problematic.


Coffee was brought to the West in the 1600s after being discovered in Ethiopia the 11th Century and refined in Arabia a few years later. The popularity of coffee came at an unfortunate time, due to another thing being very popular in Europe at the time…colonialism. The rising demand for coffee led to an exponential increase in the number of coffee plantations all across the world, creating higher demand for slaves and more land, and resulting in the deforestation of much of southern Brazil and the human rights abuses that always accompany slavery.


While that was the scene of coffee production a few hundred years ago, the scene has changed less than you would think. Many problems with coffee production still exist today, including working conditions analogous to slavery, mass deforestation for farmland and even animal exploitation. Environmentally speaking, some forms of coffee production, such as sun-cultivation coffee, are very industrious but also rapidly strip the soil of nutrients and destroy local biodiversity when practiced.


Fortunately, steps can be taken to make sure that America’s most popular drink comes from a less cruel place…


  1. Check for “Fair Trade” Coffee Beans. While initially started to help coffee farmers in developing nations get ahead and make stable wages, Fair Trade coffee also helps the environment! In many developing nations, farmers are forced to use environmentally-destructive farming practices in order to sell their beans for a good price. By supporting Fair Trade coffee, you help reduce the incentives for reckless farming practices and help farmers in the developing world get access to education on the best agricultural practices!

  2. Tea Time! Tea can make a great alternative to coffee, and its production avoids many of the environmental problems of its mass-produced cousin. Tea can often be grown locally, even here in Texas, which means that long-distance transportation costs can be avoided with relative ease! Since locally-sourced tea has to spend less time getting shipped to its final destination, the tea leaves have much more time to retain nutrients and flourish, and all of this happens while helping local and often small-scale farmers maintain their land and businesses!


Hopefully, these tips have been informative, and have inspired you to try out a different morning drink!

Lead (Down a Dark Road)

Lead is a substance that requires little introduction. For chemists, it’s a dangerous substance that must be handled with proper protection and great caution. For many American consumers, it’s something we fear in our everyday products, from children’s toys to cosmetics. For Roman engineers, it was an invaluable material for building and maintaining the pipework of their massive cities.

Lead has a long history of use, stretching back as far as 3000 BC, where it was first mined in Greece and Spain. With a long history of use, there logically follows a long history of poisoning, and disturbingly, while today we focus on ensuring we don’t even breath the stuff, in ancient times it was the desired additive. It’s well known that the Romans famously used lead in their pipes, but they also claimed it had a “sweet taste” and intentionally added it to their wines. The United States also had a history with lead, with products such as Ethyl oil-additives, and the infamous lead-based paints of the early 20th century being just a few having caused many Americans to suffer unnecessarily throughout the 20th century.

The heavy metal doesn’t just harm humans. There is evidence that plants growing near lead-smelting areas become coated thinly with lead particles, slowly strangling and starving the plant for both air and light. Animals don’t fare much better. Some avian species, such as the American Bald Eagle, suffer from swallowing lead-poisoned species which survive lead-pellet bullets. In some cases, the poisoning in animals is so bad that tests are literally off the charts, or so heavily leaded that they cannot be tested by traditional means.

How can you protect yourself, your family and your environment from this metal menace? Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can do, beginning with: do not do as the Romans do and add the stuff to your booze! Other suggestions include:

  1. Be aware of your containers. Today, many containers with lead have been phased out of the American market, but that does not mean all containers are lead-free. Old pots may still contain lead, but most leaded containers come from Mexico and Mesoamerica, where the metal can exist in everything from glass to candy-wrappers. Make sure to double check your food containers’ materials for lead, as there could be far worse things in your cookie jar than a sneaky hand.
  2. You are hereby told to avoid the old. When it comes to avoiding harm for your children, make sure they spend as little time as possible in homes built before 1978. While not all homes used lead paint prior to that year, if you don’t know what’s in the paint, it’s best not to leave it to chance.  Pregnant women should also avoid older homes, as unborn children may also be susceptible to old paint chemicals inhaled by their mother during pregnancy.
  3. Contact us! When it comes to something as dangerous as lead, you never want to leave things to chance. That’s why experts, or “super-experts” (a technical, Baer-specific term) like us exist! If you have any questions about lead in your property or otherwise, give us a call and let us figure out what measures you should take to keep your company, business, and self-safe, or let us refer you to a residential specialist to keep your home and family lead-free.